Engagement rings are given (of course) to signify commitment and the promise to marry the person giving the ring. For many, they are a necessary precursor to marriage. Indeed, engagement rings have become so intertwined with marriage itself that some couples view them as their first piece of jointly owned property.
The Florida courts, however, see matters differently. As made clear by a local appeals court earlier this month, an engagement ring is premarital property -- that is, it belongs solely to the individual (typically the wife) who receives it. This is an important distinction, as it has a major impact on how assets are distributed in the event of a divorce.
What you may not know about marital property and separate property
Generally speaking, assets an individual owns before marrying are not subject to division during divorce. Conversely, assets accumulated while a couple is together will be split when the couple parts ways.
Asset division is rarely as simple as it seems, however. At times, one spouse will be entitled to a share of the other's premarital assets. For example, if a property owned by one spouse increases in value during marriage, the net gains may be subject to division. Stocks that increase in value or stock options that mature may be treated similarly. In some cases, spouses can make claims on premarital property if the assets are necessary to meet alimony or child support payments. Typically, spouses need to work with a qualified attorney to sort out disputes arising from such concerns.
But few situations are so fraught as when engagement rings are involved. Husbands (in traditional marriages) feel they ought to recoup an expense that, after all, was made only with marriage in mind. Wives feel they should keep the gifts given to them. Typically, the Florida law is on their side.